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Cian O'Connor: "In my view, it’s important that we all look at the sport as a whole and not only from our own goldfish bowls"

Thursday, 16 June 2022
Opinion

Photo © www.tomspic.de Cian O'Connor with Taj Mahal at the Longines PfingstTurnier in Wiesbaden. "Like with a lot of these things we tend to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut without thinking of all the ramifications across the whole sport and I believe that one fault for every two seconds over would be more appropriate," O'Connor says about the new FEI Jumping Rules on time penalties. Photo © www.tomspic.de.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Following World of Showjumping’s interviews with Santiago Varela and Henrik von Eckermann, about the change in the FEI Jumping Rules concerning time penalties, we asked Cian O’Connor for his thoughts on the new regulations – and while the Irish rider agrees with some of the previous points, he offers a disparate opinion on others.

“I really enjoyed reading the previous articles with Santi and Henrik. I think everyone would agree that particularly at the highest level of the sport, if someone is four seconds over the time they are not at the “races” so to speak and therefore the old system of one fault per every four seconds was too lenient. However, the new rule is perhaps the other extreme. Like with a lot of these things we tend to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut without thinking of all the ramifications across the whole sport, and I believe that one fault for every two seconds over the time would be more appropriate.

In my view, it’s important that we all look at the sport as a whole and not only from our own goldfish bowls. There should be a clear difference between producing horses and top-level sport.

I read with interest that USA was one of the key countries to push for the current rule change, but again if all the cards were put on the table, we would know that for the most part, horses that are ridden at a high level in the US have been produced elsewhere where others educated them and brought them up the grades. It’s easy to advocate for the tighter time if you are riding a superstar with all the gears, or if you’re not the one making the horse. I must say I too ride a lot of older horses, but again it’s important to not only look at the debate from our own eyes – we need to be inclusive to all stakeholders. It's disingenuous for any of us to offer opinion on the sport based solely on five-star level as the industry needs everybody from grassroots to the very top.

Like with a lot of these things we tend to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut without thinking of all the ramifications across the whole sport

Santi discusses the time allowed as if it’s a constant or exact science and while I have no doubt he can get it right most of time, the same cannot be said for others. There are also so many factors that come into play: The shape of the arena, the ground, undulations, fence material and the weather. Also, for example, if the distances are short on a particular course and you have a big stride then you will be slower than the horse with the shorter stride. I don’t agree that the time allowed is as easy to calculate as Santi explains, but perhaps through healthy debate and constructive feedback the course builders can communicate more to try and streamline and come up with something that’s more regulated and consistent, so riders know what to expect at the different levels of shows. Certain venues and course builders have been notorious over the years for tighter time allowed than others. In fact, at times, the time allowed was so unfair that it diminished good riding and instead rewarded those who could basically disregard the fences.

I also don’t agree with praising the fact that the fences haven’t been as big this year – with Santi saying; “This year, you have not seen a single Grand Prix – neither three nor five-star – built too high.” Why is this a good thing? When I started competing internationally the first round of a Grand Prix was always about beating the course builder first! It was a jumping test – hence the sports name showjumping. Not speed jumping.

I’m concerned that the scopey horse of old will become extinct. We are playing into the hands of the less powerful and complete horse, and while that is fine for most weekends why not have a difference between the biggest venues and championships and every other Grand Prix? I actually believe we need a new star level of six-star to have a premier division of shows with the biggest tests.

It's disingenuous for any of us to offer opinion on the sport based solely on five-star level as the industry needs everybody from grassroots to the very top

Shouldn’t the star rating of shows from two-star to five-star not only be gauged on height and prize money, but also a comprehensive guideline for course builders regarding the time allowed? Does it make sense that the time allowed in a two-star Grand Prix is as tight as the five-star Grand Prix? 

It goes without saying that in young horse classes the time should not be measured the same as in bigger classes. It was particularly obvious to me in Florida, where I jumped in young horse classes, and often you are forced to leave out strides all over the place to get the time allowed. Everyone who has ever developed a younger horse knows that often you have to balance the horse and maybe add a stride to a double to teach the horse to jump off his hocks and in my view tight time really has no place in producing horses at the youngster divisions.

Again, we have a duty to cater for all stakeholders and not just what suits us individually at a given time.

It goes without saying that in young horse classes the time should not be measured the same as in bigger classes

While not totally connected to this topic, but one I feel is worth mentioning; why in god’s name do 90% of course builders make the jump-offs nowadays smaller, narrower and easier? Who decided this? Quite often you jump a big first round in a Grand Prix and then in the jump-off the front rails are dropped down, oxers narrowed in, and again the scopey championship type horse is disadvantaged while the speed machine is unleashed!

Under the new regulations, a point that has been made is how from a trading perspective the results can be misleading, but in fact it’s not only the dealers – it’s about recording the facts rather than fake news. Last week I checked the results of one horse that had 12 faults in one of its classes, but when I watched the video the horse actually had a nice training round in a speed class and had no fence down. In this day and age through the tech geniuses, surely they can develop software immediately that illustrates the difference between jumping faults and time faults on the results. Also, is it necessary to have tight times in speed classes?

Nations Cups particularly I believe are the ultimate test of horse and rider. Two big rounds of jumping, a water jump, and usually a reasonable time allowed so that the emphasis is on jumping rather than speed. Historically, this competition moulded riders and horses to become championship performers as opposed to speed merchants. Are we happy to allow our sport be dumbed down? Smaller fences, narrower oxers and longer distances in combinations are all a trait of where the sport is going, which in many cases is actually playing into the hand of the amateur rider. Where does collection come into it? Isn’t that a part of good equitation? Next thing they will be telling us that Nations Cups are too hard to follow, and, mark my words, they will want to run that against the clock as well...

Sometimes I think we as riders are asleep at the wheel as we sit back and allow others make so many rule changes without consultation

It’s a fantastic time to be involved in the sport. In fact, we are all blessed and lucky to work with these incredible animals on a daily basis. Discussion is healthy and nobody has all the answers, but sometimes I think we as riders are asleep at the wheel as we sit back and allow others make so many rule changes without consultation – or worse still, only in consultation with the chosen few!”

 

- As told to World of Showjumping by Cian O’Connor -

 


*Editor’s note:

At the beginning of 2022, the FEI Jumping Rules article 236.1 (vii) was changed. Under the rule change, exceeding the time allowed in all competitions run as a Table A is penalized with one penalty for each second commenced instead of the previous one penalty point for each four seconds commenced.

According to the article 227 in the FEI Jumping Rules, “(…) the time allowed for a round in each competition is determined in relation to the length of the course and the speeds set forth under JRs Art. 234 and Annex II.” Longines Ranking competitions counting for Longines Ranking point groups AA through D at CSIs and CSIO come with a minimum and maximum speed requirement: 375 m/minute minimum and 400 m/minute maximum outdoors and 350 m/minute minimum indoors. For young horse competitions, a speed of 325 m/minute is a minimum.

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com



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